Repeat after us: Fit is everything. Which is why when it comes to your wedding dress, alterations are also everything. "You can splurge on a pricey dress, but if it's not altered properly it won't look any better than a gown that's a tenth of the cost," says Terry Hall of New York City's Kleinfeld Bridal. As you break out the measuring tape, here are a few crucial things to consider:
Your timeline. Start shopping 10 months before your big day, if possible, because it takes a dress 16 to 20 weeks from the time you order it to arrive in the salon. Then, for standard alterations, expect two to three fittings over a period of two to four weeks, with the last fitting no later than two weeks before your wedding. If you're making major changes to the design — reworking the corset or cups, for example, or accommodating a pregnancy — budget a few extra weeks.
Your real budget. Alterations can add up. Some salons charge per service ($225 to shorten your gown, $150 to resew seams, et cetera); others do a flat fee (around $500 to $700) that covers anything you'll need to make the dress fit you perfectly. Design changes can cost anywhere from $50 (to cut a sweetheart neckline) to a few hundred (to add lace or beading, reshape the silhouette, or change the fabric). Make sure you factor in these costs before you buy.
Your wedding weight goal. Never order a too-small dress as motivation, Hall says. Even if you're diligent about those kale smoothies, you can't predict how much you'll shrink — and it's easier to take a larger dress in than to let a smaller one out. Instead, consider a gown with structure. About 40 percent have built-in corsets, which can be easily tightened or loosened. And ask if the designer will build new cups if your bust size changes. (Some won't.) Can't find a corseted gown you love? Try an A line, which covers lingering pounds. In general, the slinkier the gown, the harder it is to fix the fit if you gain or lose weight.